Boating accident victims recount harrowing near-misses after safety lapses almost claim their lives

·3 min read
Fitzpatrick, left, and Park were rescued by a man who heard them calling for help and some boaters who were passing by. (Submitted by Nichola Park - image credit)
Fitzpatrick, left, and Park were rescued by a man who heard them calling for help and some boaters who were passing by. (Submitted by Nichola Park - image credit)
Submitted by Nichola Park
Submitted by Nichola Park

The warm August weather is perfect for leisure activities on the Humber River, but a quiet day of fishing nearly turned tragic for one couple in western Newfoundland over the weekend.

Nichola Park and Wayne Fitzpatrick were fishing from their 12-foot aluminum boat on Saturday when four Jet Ski-type watercraft began speeding down the river toward them.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning, Fitzpatrick said personal watercraft are common on the Humber River, but they usually slow down and give other boaters a wide berth. This time was different.

"These guys had cut right next to us and cut a sharp turn real quick," Fitzpatrick said. "They sent the wave over us, swamped the boat and knocked us out of the boat."

Park said she had no warning before the surge hit.

"I didn't see anything coming," she said. "I was just in the boat getting ready to start fishing. And the next thing I knew, I was in the water."

Fitzpatrick said when he first came up out of the water he couldn't see Park, and feared that she had gotten hurt or hit her head. Park, disoriented after she was thrown into the water, soon got her bearings and swam to the other side of the boat, where she found Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick said the four people on Jet Skis saw what they had done, but they didn't come back to see if they were alright.

The pair held onto the boat and began screaming for help.

Another factor quickly made the situation dire: Fitzpatrick was wearing chest waders. Fitzpatrick said the boots "instantly" filled with water and began dragging him down. He said he didn't know how long he would be able to hang on to the boat.

Submitted by Nichola Park
Submitted by Nichola Park

"I really thought I was gonna have to watch him drown and that there was nothing I could do to help him," Park said.

Luckily, a man nearby was sitting in his living room when he heard them yelling for help. He ran out, called 911, and rowed out to them. By this time, Fitzpatrick said he was coughing up water. The man pulled his head up out of the river and began rowing back in.

Three other Jet Ski riders — not the ones who caused the incident — saw what was happening and towed them into shore.

Fitzpatrick said the people who came to their aid saved his life.

"Another minute, and I would have been ... drowned. I'm quite sure of it," he said.

Fitzpatrick said the incident is part of an ongoing problem with reckless boaters on the Humber River. He urged people to slow down, take a wide berth when passing others and not to drink alcohol while boating.

"I think it's important for people to realize the consequences of some of these actions," Park said. "They didn't realize what that almost cost us."

Submitted by Nichola Park
Submitted by Nichola Park

Hidden dangers

Reckless boaters aren't the only hazards that people can face while out on the water. One avid boater is warning of the danger posed by low water levels after he was violently thrown off his Jet Ski on Sunday.

In an interview with The St. John's Morning Show, Chris Janes said he was enjoying a summer day boating on Ocean Pond when his boat struck a rock sitting just a couple inches under the surface. He said he was thrown over 15 metres from his Jet Ski, which capsized.

"My only thought was 'am I okay?'" he said

Janes was uninjured, but said if any other rocks were nearby he may not have been so lucky.

Despite knowing the waters of Ocean Pond well, Janes says the water levels are unusually low this year. He advised others to be aware that hazards may be hidden under the surface.

He called the incident "traumatic" and said he'll be avoiding high-speed personal watercraft in the near future.

"It was extremely scary and extremely violent," he said.

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